WASHINGTON – A judge has thrown out a lawsuit from a former Marine who was jailed in Iran for more than four years and then denied a multimillion-dollar payout from a special U.S. government victims' fund after an FBI espionage investigation into his travels.
Judge Richard Hertling of the Court of Federal Claims said in a ruling dated Friday that the court lacked jurisdiction to overturn decisions of the special master who oversees the fund. A lawyer for Amir Hekmati said Tuesday that he was disappointed by the ruling.
“We will, of course, pursue a prompt and vigorous appeal, and we are confident that ultimately the facts will prevail,” said the attorney, Scott D. Gilbert.
Hekmati, who in 2016 was released as part of a prisoner swap, was initially awarded a default judgment after Iran failed to contest his allegations that he was wrongfully imprisoned and brutally tortured there on suspicion that he had been spying for the CIA.
Such awards are made from a fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism that is administered by the Justice Department through a special master and that caps payments at $20 million, the amount Hekmati and his lawyers say he was entitled to receive.
He was told in late 2017 that his claim was eligible for payment from the fund. But no money came, and the Justice Department told Hekmati's lawyers in 2019 that it planned to reconsider its earlier position that Hekmati was eligible for an award. Kenneth Feinberg, renowned for overseeing payments to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, was reappointed special master of the fund for the purpose of reconsidering Hekmati's claim.
In January 2020, he told Hekmati's lawyers that he had concluded that Hekmati was ineligible for a payout. He cited documents revealing a decade-old FBI espionage investigation into whether Hekmati had traveled to Iran with the intent of selling classified information.
Feinberg said the records raised questions about whether Hekmati had misled the U.S. government when he said his primary purpose in traveling to Iran was to visit his ailing grandmother.